It’s easy to forgive Burt Shevelove, Larry Gelbart and Stephen Sondheim’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum for its many faults. It’s sexist, misogynistic, homophobic, and the plot has been done for eons, or, at least, 200 BCE. It’s low comedy at its best. In fact, it might even be called the pinnacle of low comedy.
It’s also hard to mess it up, assuming you have actors who can sing, dance a little, but mostly play full-out farce. And, North Coast Repertory Theatre’s production has all of the above and then some.
The play is set in front of a neighborhood that today’s urban planners might have labeled a danger zone. Of three adjoining houses (Marty Burnett designed the set; Matt Novotny the lighing), the middle one is occupied by a well-off couple, Senex (Andrew Ableson), Domina (Melinda Gilb) and their virginal son, Hero (Chris M. Kauffmann). The house is run by a slave named Hysterium (Kevin Hafso Koppman), and Hero owns a wily slave named Psuedolus (Omri Schein).
But, that’s where the respectability ends. On one side is a house where Erronius (John Greenleaf) has been absent for some time while searching for his two children, who have been stolen by pirates (yes, really). Fortunately, Senex has a key and has been watching over the house, using it for his own purposes every so often.
On the other side is a house of ill repute presided over by Marcus Lycus (David McBean), who’s not really a “madam” but, as Mr. McBean plays the role, fairly close. The courtesans (Missy Marion, Amy Perkins, Jean Schroeder, and Jason Maddy), of course all have hearts of gold, and one of them (Noelle Marion as Philia) is a virgin who Lycus has imported to sell to Miles Gloriosus (Mr. Maddy again, not all that far from his courtesan role, in the grand scheme of things).
Oddly enough, Senex doesn’t seem to mind having courtesans next door, other than he doesn’t want his son, Hero, near them. But, Hero has already spotted Philia and felt a strange stirring in his loins. Psuedolus offers to procure Philia for Hero, in exchange for his freedom.
Thus, the plot is set for action, including a lot of quick changes (costumes by Elisa Benzoni) by three “proteans” (Luke H. Jacobs, Missy Marion, and Ms. Perkins), who also execute most of Colleen Kollar Smith’s choreography – and a bunch of doors that slam.
David Ellenstein has directed his cast to have fun with the show, and the cast responds with plenty of stock bits and impish humor. Mr. Schein specializes in playing nebbishes who light up the room, and as Psuedolus he doesn’t so much scheme as stage-manage the action. Mr. Hafso Koppman, whose versatility as an actor keeps growing, shows, among other things, that he can look credible in a dress (likewise, Mr. Maddy). Mr. McBean, slyly avoids the natural longueurs of his character, and Ms. Gilb, also slyly, manages not to stray into caricature. Mr. Abelson and Mr. Greenleaf punctuate the beats with jokes, and Mr. Kauffmann and Noelle Marion make for appealing, virginal, lovers.
And, the audience laps it all up, erupting in gales of laughter the likes of which are rarely heard on local stages.
Catch it while the fun’s hot, through August 12.
[box]Performs Wednesdays at 7pm, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8pm, Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2pm with Sundays at 7pm. Ample parking is available in the shopping center where the theater is located. This review was based on the opening night performance, July 14, 2018.